Don’t fret if you can’t find your benchmarking mate

Satisfaction data can come from other industries

Most health care providers benchmark patient satisfaction survey results against other providers, but that’s not the only way, says John Herringer, associate director of department of standards for the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations in Oakbrook Terrace, IL.

The Joint Commission’s standards require organizations to compare their patient satisfaction data to those of other organizations, and Herringer says general customer satisfaction data also might apply.

"People don’t understand that they don’t have to compare themselves to another health care organization," Herringer says. "Certainly Federal Express, L.L. Bean, and others are constantly measuring data and comparing themselves for satisfaction."

General customer satisfaction questions can be translated from one industry to another, Herringer adds. These include:

• How accurate was the information you received?

• Were things explained in terms you could understand?

• When we made a change in your service schedule, did we let you know in advance?

• Was your bill self-explanatory, or was it confusing?

• Were you connected with a person who could answer your call in a timely manner?

The Joint Commission also attends to these aspects of customer satisfaction. "We have a policy of not transferring calls unless the caller wants to be transferred," Herringer notes. "We offer to take their number, find out an answer, and get back to them ourselves, and we want to answer the phone in three rings."

Quality managers who are interested in using benchmarks developed in other industries could call the quality improvement departments of companies like Freeport, ME-based L.L. Bean and ask the staff what kind of customer satisfaction data they collect, he suggests.

Managers can find companies that have excellent customer service programs by checking the public library for articles on those that have won quality awards, such as the Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award. Also, the consulting firm Press, Ganey Associates of South Bend, IN, annually recognizes its clients in health care who have effectively used patient satisfaction data to improve quality.

"A lot of organizations are doing an outstanding job in customer satisfaction, so they’re more than happy to share that information," Herringer adds.

L.L. Bean will answer requests for benchmark information with a letter, a benchmark application, and a benchmark agreement. The sporting goods/clothing catalog company also will provide a benchmark code of conduct that lists principles that individuals and companies involved in benchmarking should follow. These include legal issues, trade secrets, sharing benchmark information without permission, confidentiality, communication between benchmark partners, preparation, completion, and contact lists.

When do you need to benchmark your patient satisfaction survey process? Herringer explains that the following red flags indicate a provider needs to benchmark:

Your survey results always are 100%.

"Maybe the way you’re phrasing the questions is not really getting to the point," he suggests. "Sometimes your choices of answers don’t allow them to say what they want to say."

Your surveys have a low response rate.

"If only 10% surveyed reply, then what is that really telling you? Why are the others not responding?" he continues. "Is it because they’re apathetic, or maybe they’re not satisfied and they don’t want to tell you that?"

Your surveys reveal key problem areas that need to be addressed.

"When the results are lower than you’d like to see, you need to discover why that’s happening," Herringer says.

[Editor’s note: To obtain L.L. Bean’s benchmark application, agreement, and Benchmarking Code of Conduct, contact Margaret Orth, Benchmarking Program Developer, L.L. Bean, Casco St., Upham Building, Freeport, ME 04033. Telephone: (207) 552-6677, ext. 34419. Fax: (207) 552-3073. E-mail: margaret.orth@

For information about benchmarking with Federal Express, contact Lola Covington- Thomas, Federal Express, 1980 Nonconah Blvd., 1st Floor, Memphis, TN 38132. Telephone: (901) 395-4597.]